Monday, January 7, 2008

The Death-Knell For Books?

Dr. Mohler has written a blog article on "the twilight of books" in which he cites Walter Ong who said that our civilization is returning to a condition of "secondary orality" in which the literate culture has voluntarily given up reading. As an erstwhile bibliophile, I would bemoan this trend; yet I wonder if there is something more meaningful at work behind the trend.

Humans gravitate to the easiest form of communication, whether in writing or in spoken language. Languages always shift from more complicated forms to less complicated ones. Books were an invention of preservation. Writing did not only communicate spoken thought, it recorded that thought for posterity.

In our digital age images and sounds, the elements of thought reified, are recorded all the time. Say you want to remember the story of I Am Legend; you could read the book, but (assuming the movie was true to the book {it isn't}) you could also watch the movie. If a movie or sound file accurately records the elements of thought, why not prefer these media over books? They may even bring the elements to better recollection. As far as history goes, we can still find those grainy images of Saddam Hussein's execution. While the images are horrible, they are incontrovertible evidence for the dictator's demise.

I think books do and always will have their place, but I welcome the digital age and its ease of storage and access of information. I also think it is a blessing that we can have the entire Bible and a number of other books displayed on PDA's or read aloud on our MP3 players. We are still in an experimental period with all of this technology, but I think as we better learn the capacity and limits of the technology, we may find that its careful use makes us better communicators.

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